Things didn’t look good for the Washburn Ichabods early in the game against the Fort Hays State Tigers.
The Tigers started off hot behind the three-point shooting of Ben Congiusta. The senior guard from Australia was lighting it up from behind the arc, hitting his first three attempts to give the Tigers a early 9-2 lead.
“I think we got their best night shooting again,” said Bob Chipman, Washburn head coach.
The Ichabods were able to battle back and took their first lead of the game, 12-11, off of a Joseph Smith tip-in at the 13:34 mark in the first half. Washburn’s lead was anything but safe, as the Tigers fought back behind phenomenal three-point shooting to force eight ties and seven lead changes in the game. Luckily for Washburn, senior guard Will McNeill played like the All-American that he is. The 6-foot-1 shooting guard was the focal point for the Washburn offense, scoring 13 of his game-high 28 points in the first half. McNeill used his athletic ability on the low block, posting up guards who struggled to stop the high-flying guard from Louisiana.
“My teammates did a great job getting me the ball,” said McNeill. “It felt like everything was going in tonight.”
Fort Hays seemed to counter back with an answer every time McNeill hit a big shot. The Tigers knocked down 10 three-pointers. Congiusta found his rhythm again in the second half, hitting three more treys on his way to finishing with 20 points and four assists.
“The three ball can get you standing,” said Chipman. “I thought it had our defense standing in the second half.”
Unlike the Tigers, who shot 48 percent from downtown, Washburn was only able to muster up one three-pointer out of six tries. The only three that went down for the Bods couldn’t have came at a better time. Washburn held a one point lead, 63-62, when back-up guard/forward Leon Flowers knocked down a shot from the perimeter to make it a two possession game.
“Leon who hasn’t played much,” said Chipman, “he hit a big three and his defense was great.”
Just when things looked to being going Washburn’s way, Fort Hays junior guard Carson Konrade found some holes in the Ichabods’ defense. After both teams struggled to score for a couple of minutes, Konrade answered to Washburn’s lone three with a big three of his own with 1:51 left in the game to pull FHSU within three, 68-65. All eight of Konrade’s shots were from behind the three-point line, as he nailed four of them and three free throws en route to 15 points.
“When Congiusta and [Konrade] hit those threes, I was praying they would miss those next ones,” said McNeill. “Luckily we stayed together as a team and got the W.”
McNeill took over the waning moments. He hit four free throws in the last minute of the game as Washburn walked away with a key 76-70 win. McNeill went 10-12 from the charity stripe. Although Washburn was unable to sink shots from behind the perimeter, they were able to get things going in the paint. Senior forward Bobby Chipman played arguably one of his best games of the season, going 5-7 from the field as he finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Fellow senior forward Zack Riggins provided a huge spark in the first half, scoring eight of his 12 points in the first half. Riggins calmly sank all six of his free throw attempts, two of them coming in the final minute of the game. Despite only playing 11 minutes because of foul trouble, Smith scored 12 points as Washburn outscored the Tigers 28 to 10 in points in the paint.
“I was proud of Will,” said Chipman. “He was dynamic down the stretch. Our guys hung in there and we did just enough. I was just so proud of everyone, just fighting and trying as hard as they can try. We want to get back to that this year.”
Luke Warnken, [email protected], is a junior athletic training major.